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I could handle comments that lacked tact, brains, or both. This I couldn’t

Last sheva brachos, the coatroom had way more wools than downs. Tonight, downs are the clear majority. What does that say about their side and our side?

I know, I know, the coatroom is a peculiar place to spend my younger sister’s sheva brachos. And tonight, I’d really tried to stay at the table. Only Hashem knows how hard I tried.

I’d managed to smile brightly as the how-old-is-your-baby exchange went on all around me, and when my sister’s new grandmother gave me a mazel tov hug and said, “You just got married yourself, didn’t you?” (Anyone who doesn’t have children yet must have just gotten married, you understand. Obviously.)

I faked a chuckle and said, “Sure feels like yesterday.” I can’t say that was perfectly honest, though; I often feel like a century has passed since I was a happy and carefree newlywed. But sometimes, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do, mipnei hashalom and all that.

Then, when one of the guests announced that she doesn’t know a soul who doesn’t own a Citi Mini stroller, I had to fill my mouth with challah to avoid blurting out that shockingly enough, I did possess a soul, though not a Citi Mini.

Feeling very pleased with how strong I was being, I mentally awarded myself three TC (tactless comment) points in the contest I was having with my husband. What would I ask for if I won tonight’s round? A chocolate bar? Iced coffee?

But truthfully, all these encounters, though not pleasant, weren’t the ones that really hurt. Comments like this came from what we called the CIs (clueless innocents), those hapless individuals who sometimes lacked tact, sometimes brains, and sometimes both. And sometimes neither. Even smart, sensitive people can unwittingly hit a nerve if they’re unaware of the pain the other person is in.

So TCs from CIs weren’t what sent me to the coatroom tonight. Those I can handle. It was my conversation with Elisheva that had me gasping for air and running, running before the dam on my tear ducts crumbled completely.

Though Elisheva was two years older than me, she was the only cousin close to my age, and we’d always been there for each other. At least in my pre-infertility life. We’d DMC’ed our way straight through the shidduch wringer, and then, finally, I’d danced joyously at her wedding. When I myself got married six months after she did, it seemed that life couldn’t get any sweeter.

Until, at the family Chanukah party one year, I had quite ceremoniously — at least in my mind — stepped over the threshold that turned niggling worry into something that would set me apart from the crowd forever.

Elisheva was always the life of the party, and that night, as she gleefully played a verbal volley with my sisters and cousins, exchanging anecdotes and laughs about their pregnancies and births, I looked around the room and realized that I was the only woman there who was neither in maternity nor holding a baby. And I wasn’t the most newly married. At all.

From then on, a pattern emerged. At every single family simchah, Elisheva would talk of little other than her most recent birth or shopping for maternity clothes — again. And I would arrive home from every single simchah fighting tears.

“What is that woman thinking?!” my husband would mutter when he’d see the state I was in. Maybe, I would conjecture once the resentment would start to fade a bit, she genuinely thinks this is the way she’d like to be treated if she were in my place. To some people, the thought that others “pity” them is so terrifying that it’s reassuring when others feel free to talk about their children around them. Could it be that Elisheva viewed it as a kindness to lay it on thick?

How was she to know that I felt otherwise?

But tonight, when I suddenly found myself talking to Elisheva alone, I decided on a whim to open up to her just a wee little bit about the struggles we were going through. Maybe then she would start to be more sensitive. My opportunity came soon enough, when she started talking about her summer plans.

“I would love to take off a few weeks from work for a getaway,” I commented, “but our finances are really tight. Infertility costs a fortune, you know.”

“Just so you know,” she answered, eyes flashing, “between two of my pregnancies, my doctor recommended therapy for an issue that developed and it ended up costing us almost two thousand dollars. So don’t think you’re the only one who goes through stuff.”

Almost two thousand dollars? One minor issue between two healthy children? That’s called stuff!?! I wanted to scream as the blood rushed to my face. But of course, I didn’t dare. Besides, since when is life a pain contest? Does the fact that your life isn’t perfect cancel out my suffering?

That is when I turned on my heels, muttering something about the bathroom, and fled.

Eventually, I heard the men start to bentsh and I realized with a jolt that everyone would soon come retrieve their coats. I composed myself enough to sneak back to the table, Elisheva’s words still a fist clenched around my heart.

The years passed, and through the glorious goodness of Hashem, that era in my life came to a close: I’m now the gratitude-flooded mother of three precious beauties. But still, there’s a piece of my heart that is raw and bleeding and yearning.

I want another baby already, it screams, thrashing. The seesaw that is secondary infertility; that’s my life. One day (or year or month or moment) I feel like the luckiest woman alive — thank You Hashem, for these priceless neshamalach! — and then suddenly, wham — why is everything so difficult for us?

When Elisheva has her eighth child while I long to have a fourth, I remember her words from all those years ago. Though I’ve long forgiven her, I remain so human and so fragile, and our relationship still bears a scar.

I’m almost tempted to pick up the phone and tell her how mistaken she was in her brash assumption that I’d been making a big deal out of trivialities, how hurtful it was to have my pain crudely dismissed. Certainly then, I think, she’d tell me how much she regrets what she’d said, how much she cares, and her words will flow over me like a warm tea soothing a sore throat. Certainly then, I think, I’ll finally have closure.

But I don’t know if I’ll be able to find the words to tell her all that, and besides, I doubt she even remembers our conversation at that sheva brachos.

And then, I realize something: Some people will never really get it. Perhaps, even if I explained until I was blue in the face, the apology would never come, at least not the way I hoped it would. She might utter the words if I asked for them, but she might still think I was just being petty.

That doesn’t mean though, that I can never attain closure. Because, maybe I don’t need her to understand; maybe I just need to understand that she’ll never understand.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 746)

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